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Owner of burned Oak Park gay bar Velvet Rope charged with arson, fraud

<p>Frank Elliot / photo from Oak Park police</p>

Frank Elliot / photo from Oak Park police

The former owner of an Oak Park gay bar and restaurant destroyed in a fire last year was charged Friday with arson and insurance fraud.

Frank Elliot, 26, who operated the Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge, 728 Lake St. in Oak Park, was arrested early Friday night at the Bonsai Bar, which he operates at 3503 N. Halsted St., in Chicago, according to Oak Park police.

Firefighters responded to a report of smoke at the Velvet Rope at 6:30 a.m. on June 23, 2012, police said. The fire was quickly extinguished but not before the building sustained significant damage and adjacent businesses suffered water and smoke damage.

No injuries were reported but state investigators determined arson was the probable cause of the fire, police said.

At the time of the blaze, Elliot told media outlets that he believed his bar was targeted because it catered to a gay clientele, police said.

In a written statement, Oak Park police Chief Rick Tanksley praised the investigators who worked on the fire.

“This incident was a troubling one for our community, which prides itself on being open and welcoming to all. A hate crime just didn’t make sense,” Tanksley said.

Elliot was expected Saturday in bond court.

If convicted, Elliot faces a maximum seven-year prison sentence for each count of arson and 15-year maximum for insurance fraud. He would also face fines of at least $25,000.

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